The Blueshirts in Limerick 1932



The Blueshirts in Limerick 1932
h e politics of Limerick are
intimately intertwined with
political and economic
developments at national
level and are also influenced
by general political moods, tensions and
economic shifts on the broader international arena, as this article dealing with
the Blueshirt movement in Limerick City
and County in the 1930s amply illustrates.
Ireland's struggle for independence
from British rule culminated in the AngloIrish Treaty of 1921. Under this agreement, Ireland's thirty-two counties were
divided: twenty-six were allocated to the
Irish Free State, while the remaining six,
because of their overall Protestant
majority, stayed within t h e United
The acceptance of the partition of the
country and the Oath of Allegiance to the
British Monarch split the Irish nationalist
movement into two factions, those who
were pro-Treaty led by Michael Collins,
and those who were anti-Treaty, led by
Eamon De Valera. The foot soldiers of the
movement, the volunteers of the Irish
Republican Army, also divided. What
followed was a bitter civil war that lasted
from June 1922 until May 1923, when the
anti-Treaty forces were defeated. On 7
December 1923, t h e Irish F r e e State
officially came into existence. T h e
members of the Provisional government,
under the leadership W.T. Cosgrave, took
the name of Cumann na nGaedheal - the
Irish Party. Anti-Treaty members elected
to the Dail, specifically Sinn Fein, refused
to take their seats and remained outside
the parliamentary process. This state of
affairs came to an end in 1927 following
the assassination of the Vice-President
and Minister of Justice, Kevin O'Higgins,
when the Cosgrave government passed a
Bill forcing every elected member to the
Dail to either take the Oath of Allegiance
to the British Crown or give up his seat.
By that time Eamon De Valera's new
political party, Fianna Fail, founded in
1926 after h e split with Sinn Fein, had
become the main political opposition.
In laying t h e groundwork for a
democratic state, the government faced a
number of threats to its stability. In 1924, a
mutiny by a small group of officers within
t h e army was brought to an end when
Kevin O'Higgins sacked t h e officers
involved. The decision of the Boundary
Commission in 1925 to retain all the six
northern counties within the British State,
when the government had thought that
some of the counties would be re-united
with the south, made the partition of the
country a permanent feature of Irish life.
General Owen O'Duffy, about 1932
After this, O'Higgins approached
members of the British establishment
with Arthur Griffith's old idea of dual
monarchy, that is, a 32-county Ireland with
its own government, under a British
Monarch; this suggestion fell through.'
During t h e world economic crisis
sparked off by t h e Wall Street Crash
of 1929, t h e Cumann na nGaedheal
government made a number of unpopular
decisions that included the cutting of the
old age pension by one shilling, cuts in the
salaries of teachers, civil servants and the
Garda Force and the introduction of the
Intoxicating Liquor Act, which sought to
reduce the number of public houses and
shorten opening hours. On 22 January
1932, the entire Garda Force of Limerick
City held a meeting in William Street
Barracks and the following resolution was
'We t h e N.C.O.'s and men of t h e
Limerick Force, view with the gravest
alarm t h e action of t h e Executive
Council in deciding on a further
curtailment of 5% in our emoluments,
and we are strongly of the opinion that
this action on the part of the Executive
is wholly unjustifiable and is a step
taken more in t h e case of election
propaganda than in the interests of
By the early 1930s, Cumann na nGaedheal
had become s o unpopular with t h e
electorate that it was defeated in t h e
general election of February 1932,
bringing De Valera and his party to power.
In the weeks leading up to polling day,
Cumann na nGaedheal election posters
emphasised their achievements of t h e
previous ten years, including t h e
establishment of a sound financial
position, which was, they maintained, the
envy of Europe and Arneri~a.~
they portrayed Fianna Fail's election
promises as a threat to the stability of the
state and hinted that Fianna Fail was
influenced by socialist and communist
Nevertheless. Fianna Fail s w e ~ to
power on a platform of radical ideas and
1. Fianna FAil would abolish the Oath of
2. Fianna Fail would keep the Annuities
within the country and get advice on
whether or not the Irish Government
should pay pensions to members of
t h e former police force, t h e Royal
Irish Constabulary.
3. Fianna Fail would encourage t h e
creation of Irish manufacturing
industries to meet the needs of the
people and protect the home market
for farmers to encourage them to
grow enough food for the population.
4. Fianna Fail would negotiate foreign
trade agreements that would give
preference to Irish goods.
T h e y also pledged to try to end, by
peaceful means, t h e partition of t h e
country. Other aspects of their policies
were: decentralization of government, the
preservation of the Irish language and the
release of political prisoners. They denied
t h a t they had any 'leanings toward
communism or belief in communistic
The 1930s was a turbulent period, not
only in Irish history, but also in Europe.
T h e s e were t h e years of t h e Great
Depression and massive unemployment
worldwide. The unemployment figures for
the Limerick area on 3 September 1934
showed 15,524 men and 18,710 women
and juveniles out of work. Nationwide
t h e r e were 92,437 men and 102,038
women and juveniles registered a s
unemployed.6 Meanwhile, the 1920s and
'30s saw t h e rise of militant, colourshirted, extreme right-wing political
parties in practically every country in
Europe, t h e two largest being Benito
Mussolini's black-shirted fascists in Italy
and Adolf Hitler's Brownshirts in
Germany, who came to power in 1922 and
1933 respectively. Ireland followed the
European trend with its own homebred
colour-shirted movement - the Blueshirts.
The Blueshirts had their origins in the
Army Comrades Association (ACA), an
organisation founded to protect t h e
interests of ex-Free State soldiers who had
upheld the Treaty. Two of its founding
members were Commandant Ned Cronin
from Charleville, County Cork, and
Colonel Austin Brennan from Meelick, Co.
Clare. The ACA began life on 10 February
1932, the same month that De Valera and
Fianna Fail were elected to power. The
objectives of the association were:
(a) To uphold the honour of the State.
(b) To honour the Irish Volunteers who
had died during the Anglo-Irish War
of Independence and to raise a
national memorial to them.
(C) To be non-political and non-sectarian.7
But this rather innocuous policy began to
change when Fianna Fail began releasing
IRA political prisoners and lifting the
former government's ban on such left
wing organizations as Saor Eire and the
Irish Communist Party. Large open-air
meetings were held to celebrate t h e
release of Republican prisoners and
threats were made by speakers against
Cumann na nGaedheal to the effect that
the hour of retribution had come.8 The
release of t h e prisoners was s e e n by
Cumann na nGaedheal supporters as an
attempt to stifle any opposition to Fianna
Fail and a s a threat to t h e freedom of
speech? for calls were openly being made
by IRA leaders for the suppression of the
'Free State traitors' and the 'Cosgravite
traitors1.1o In April, ex-President Cosgrave
was prevented from speaking at a meeting
in Cork by a hostile mob.
In August 1932, Colonel T.F.
O'Higgins, brother of the assassinated
Minister of Justice Kevin O'Higgins, took
over the leadership of the Army Comrades
Association. In response to the IRA's call
for a 'No Free Speech For Traitors'
campaign, O'Higgins said that the ACA
would stand shoulder to shoulder for
democratic rights, 'the right to assemble
and the right of free speech'." He went on
to say that, while the organisation was
originally intended for ex-army men, it had
now decided to take recruits, whether exarmy or not, and would organise for the
purpose of preventing rowdyism and
disorder at public meetings.12 In another
statement the following month, O'Higgins
denied that t h e ACA was a political
organisation, but admitted that it could be
seen a s political because it stood for
decent citizenship, respect for the law and
the maintenance of law and order. The
ACA, h e maintained, was intent on the
extermination of a sinister communistic
organisation, a reference to left-wing
m e m b e r s of t h e IRA.13 But t h e major
battleground of the 1930s in Ireland was
not communism: it was going to be the
Economic War with Britain and t h e
payment of Annuities by t h e farming
community to the De Valera government.
The Annuities, which were paid twice a
year to the British Government, were
repayments on low interest loans that
Britain had given to Irish farmers in the
1890s and early 1900s to help them to buy
land. In the mid-1920s, Peadar O'Donnell, * i
an anti-treaty IRA leader and socialist, had '
been actively involved in a campaign not
to pay Annuities. It was felt that the people
were paying for land that originally had
been taken from them. The fact that the
British Government had scrapped t h e
paying of annuities in Northern Ireland
was grist to the mill. De Valera adopted
O'Donnell's proposal in his 1932 election
manifesto, which became official government policy when Fianna Fail came to
power. T h e withholding of Annuity
payments to Britain led to a retaliatory 20%
tax imposed on Irish goods imported into
Britain. This was particularly detrimental
to Ireland's cattle export trade, hitting
those 'big farmers' who tended to b e
Cumann na nGaedheal supporters. In
reply to t h e s e measures, t h e Irish
government applied import duties to
British goods.
Meanwhile, attacks on Cumann na
nGaedheal meetings were becoming more
frequent. On Sunday, 9 October 1932,
several hundred Fianna Fail supporters,
some of them marching four square in
military formation with hurleys on their
shoulders,14 gathered in the Co. Limerick
town of Kilmallock to obstruct a Cumann
na nGaedheal meeting which was to take
place that afternoon. As soon a s t h e
speakers, who were accompanied by fifty
or sixtv ACA men. stood UD on the back of
a lorry to make their speeches the attack
began. In the hand-to-hand fighting that
followed, hurleys, sticks, s t o n e s and
bottles were used as weapons. As t h e
fighting continued, Fianna Fail supporters
tried to start a rival meeting. When the
Cumann na nGaedheal speakers returned
to Lyon's Hotel, they were attacked, as
were members of a band from Limerick.
One former member of the Blueshirts, to
whom this writer spoke, related how h e
and some other men were trapped in the
hotel. When I asked if he had thrown any
missiles, he said, 'Well, we had to defend
ourselves". It was not until t h e parish
priest arrived on the scene that peace was
finally restored.15 After the incident, a
detachment of soldiers arrived from
Limerick to escort some of the ACA men
to their homes.
At least fourteen people were injured in
the melee, the most serious being Peter
Hall from Thomas Street, Limerick, who
suffered injuries to his face and head.16
Later that evening, Fianna Fail said they
were opposed to t h e Cumann n a
nGaedheal meeting because the De Valera
government were at the time in negotiations with the British.17 A week later,
after the disturbances in Kilmallock, the
negotiations broke down.18 As it had
. .
- ~ ~
. ~~~
Marsh's Saleyard in cork when a lorryload of men crashed a barrier, August 1934. The High Court in 1937 found a prima facie
case of manslaughter, but no further action was taken
proved difficult during t h e fracas to
differentiate between friend and foe,
Comdt. Cronin came up with the idea that
in future ACA men wear blue shirts.
T h e following month Alderman
Mossey Reidy, a Cumann na nGaedheal
Dail deputy for Limerick, blamed t h e
government for the high increase in the
numbers unemployed. "Never before" said
Ald. Reidy, "were so many unemployed in
t h e city, while destitution was widespread". T h e trade of t h e port had
decreased to s u c h an extent that t h e
wages bill had been reduced by 50%.The
building trade was practically a t a
standstill and depression was everywhere,
while the ranks of the unemployed were
being added to day after day. That, said
Ald. Reidy, "was what Fianna Fail had
done for Limerick Ig
To add to the gloom, some of the items
that had had import duties placed on them
just before Christmas 1932 were: custard
powders, Christmas stockings, jewellery,
Easter eggs, bread, spark plugs, spectacles, clay pipes and underclothing.20 The
farming community was also hard hit by
not being able to export cattle to Britain.
On 2 January 1933, De Valera delivered a
political bombshell when he dissolved the
Dail and called for a general election. The
reason given by the President was that,
"the programme on which the government
was elected required that there should be
no doubt that the government enjoyed
the confidence of the electorate and that
they, the government, continue to have
necessary parliamentary strength to put
their programme into effect".
In t h e closing days of t h e election
campaign, both De Valera and Cosgrave
paid visits to Limerick. A novelty of the
campaign at the time was a Cumann na
nGaedheal van going around the country
showing a film of an election speech by
. ~ ~t h e night before
Mr. C o s g r a ~ e On
polling day, Fianna Fail supporters in
Limerick, in anticipation of an election
victory, paraded through the city led by a
number of horsemen wearing sashes and
accompanied by St. Mary's Fife and Drum
Band.2zThe next day, 24 January, Fianna
Fail swept to power with an overall
Two weeks later, on 22 February, De
Valera called Police Commissioner
General Eoin O'Duffy to his office to tell
him that he was being relieved of his post.
O'Duffy was offered an alternative
position, with t h e same salary, but h e
declined the offer. After a second meeting,
De Valera dismissed O'Duffy from his
post. The dismissal of O'Duffy was due to
the fact that Fianna Fail saw him as a proTreaty officer and Cumann na nGaedheal
supporter and they did not have 'full
confidence' in him.24After his dismissal,
O'Duffy went on holidays to fascist Italy.
In March 1933, t h e Limerick City
branch of the Army Comrades Association
passed a resolution pledging their loyalty
to the National Executive of the ACA in
Dublin. They also pointed out that it was
not their intention to usurp the functions
of the Garda Siochana, but to help when
necessary to maintain order at public
m e e t i n g s z 5 However, not all of its
members were so law abiding. On 1July,
three members of the ACA from Limerick
City broke into a s u m m e r h u t in
Ardnacrusha at 3.30 in the morning. At
gunpoint they ordered the occupants of
the hut out. While two of the ACA men
kept them covered with revolvers, a third
ransacked the hut. They appeared to be
looking for weapons, but on not finding
any, they left, firing at least six shots as
they went. In the court case that followed,
two of them were fined and bound to
peace for twelve monthsz6
In Dublin, a t a convention of t h e
association, General O'Duffy, back from
his holidays in Italy, was offered t h e
leadership of t h e ACA. T h i s h e duly
accepted on 20 July. Almost immediately
he changed the name of the association to
the National
He also announced
that h e was reviving the former government's (Cumann na nGaedheal) annual
parade to the Collins-Griffith-O'Higgins
cenotaph at Leinster House, setting 1 3
August as the date.
Meanwhile De Valera and the government, fearing a possible seizure of power
b y O'Duffy and t h e National Guard,
decided to act. Garda stations around the
country were ordered to withdraw all
firearm permits and to collect t h e
weapons. O'Duffy refused to comply with
the order and on Wednesday, 2 August,
detectives called to h i s h o u s e and
confiscated two firearms. One of them was
the revolver that Michael Collins had in
his hand when h e was shot dead in an
ambush in County Cork in August, 1922,
during the Civil War.28 Finally, O'Duffy's
planned march was banned by t h e
government on the day before it was due
to take place. In an effort to save face,
O'DufTy called for a Church parade of the
National Guard to be held in every district
in Ireland on Sunday, 20 August.29
However, due to objections from the
church authorities, O'Duffy instructed his
men to limit the march to their own areas.
On Sunday the 20th, just after one o'clock,
forty-five m e m b e r s of t h e Limerick
National Guard under Captain Walsh left
the Cumann na nGaedheal headquarters
in t h e Crescent and gathered a t t h e
O'Connell monument. After observing two
minutes silence, Captain Walsh started to
read a statement from General O'Duffy.
Just then a man dashed from the crowd
that had gathered and attempted to snatch
the document from Captain Walsh. He
was arrested and removed from the crowd
by one of the Gardai on duty. After the
brief ceremony, the Blueshirts returned to
the Cumann na nGaedheal office. Later, as
groups of Blueshirts left the office, the
crowd attacked them and the Gardai had
to draw their batons to protect them. It
was four o'clock before the last of t h e
Blueshirts got away. Later that night some
Blueshirts were attacked in Carey's Road
and chased through Mallow Street and
Catherine Street until t h e Gardai
T h e following day, 2 1 August, t h e
government banned the National Guard. A
week later De Valera held a political rally
of h i s supporters a t t h e O'Connell
monument in Limerick; this went off
peacefully.31On 8 September O'DufFy and
t h e National Guard amalgamated with
Cumann na nGaedheal and a smaller
group, the National Centre Party, to form
a new political party - Fine Gael. O'Duffy
was to b e leader of the new party, but
because he was not an elected member of
the Dail, Cosgrave was chosen to head the
party in the Dail. It was agreed that the
Blueshirts would exist as a separate entity
within the party under a new name, the
Young Ireland Association.
On Saturday 23 September, the new
party leaders, Eoin O'Duffy, W.T.
Cosgrave and James Dillon, arrived in
Limerick for a meeting that evening at the
Crescent. Nearly 200 Gardai were on duty
when the leaders arrived at Cruise's Hotel,
t h e starting point on lower O'Connell
Street for the parade to the Crescent. A
group of Fianna Fail supporters standing
across t h e road made a dash to get at
them. The Gardai drew their batons and
t h e crowd dispersed for a while. As a
procession of Blueshirts made their way to
Cruise's Hotel, led down O'Connell Street
by a pipe band, they were attacked. In the
ensuing struggle a Blueshirt flag was
ripped to pieces, a member of the band
was seen with his face and head covered
in blood and a Blueshirt was knocked to
the ground and beaten. Eventually the
procession, protected by t h e Gardai,
reached Cruise's.
When t h e main parade marched up
O'Connell Street to the Crescent, they
were met with from the side streets with
volleys of stones and bottles. In a struggle
to get a penknife from a man in the crowd,
a Garda Sergeant received a cut to his
abdomen and right thigh. At the height of
the violence an attempt was made to set
fire to cars outside Cruise's Hotel and a
lony which had brought Blueshirts to the
city had vital parts removed. Shots were
fired at Gardai near the Lyric Cinema,
located on the corner of Glentworth Street
and Baker Place, as they pursued some of
the protestors. That evening at least 33
people were treated for injurles a t
Barrington's Hospital. It is estimated that
10,000 people were in the city that evening
for t h e meeting. In some instances,
Blueshirts leaving the city required police
Throughout the autumn and winter
months of 1933-34, conflict between the
opposing factions grew more bitter.33On
15 November, a Blueshirt on his way
home to Tervoe, Mungret was followed by
some men from Limerick City in a motor
car. As h e was walking with his bicycle,
the car passed him a few times. Eventually
the car pulled up some distance away and
waited for him. As he came towards the
car, he could see two men standing near it.
While one of the men was asking him
directions for the road to Foynes, t h e
other pulled out a revolver. The man with
the gun then said, "Are you as good a man
as the night you fired on the Republicans
at Tervoe?" The Blueshirt replied, "You
know who fired the shots on us that night,"
and denied that h e had fired any shots.
"Shut up O'DufFy now," said the gunman.
After some further exchanges there was a
struggle for the gun. As the Blueshirt got
hold of t h e revolver, a s h o t was discharged apparently wounding one of his
assailants. After that, the men drove off.34
Two weeks later, on Sunday night, 26
November, at least five or six hundred
people wearing Blueshirts attended a Fine
Gael dance at Newcastlewest. A large
force of soldiers, Gardai and detectives
were drafted into the County Limerick
town and took up positions around the
Carnegie Library, where the dance was to
be held. The local power station, which
supplied electricity to the area, was also
guarded. Army and police patrolled the
town throughout the evening, but this did
not stop interference with t h e power
supply. T h e town was plunged into
darkness a number of times, but the dance
continued. Earlier in the night, a motorist
and h i s passengers on their way to
Abbeyfeale crashed into a tree that had
been deliberately laid across t h e road
some distance from the t0wn.3~
On 8 December t h e government
banned the Young Ireland A s ~ o c i a t i o n ~ ~
and six days later t h e Blueshirts
reappeared a s the League of Youth. In
o r d e r to stop t h e government from
banning the Blueshirt organisation again,
Fine Gael affiliated the League of Youth
more closely to the party. This meant that
if the government tried to ban the League
they would also have to ban Fine Gae1.37
Fine Gael also brought an action to the
High Court to obtain a declaration that the
League was a lawful a s s o ~ i a t i o nIt. ~took
nearly six years for the High Court to give
a ruling in favour of the League, but by
that time, in 1937, it no longer existed 39
In early January 1934, Home Assistance
Payments for those who were unemployed
in the City were reduced by 33%% due to
a shortage of cash in the Health Board.40A
torchlight procession by the recipients of
home assistance, led by t h e Sarsfield
Band, marched from Bank Place to the
O'Connell monument to protest against
the cuts. The meeting began in a downpour of rain.41 In anticipation of trouble
from the protestors, the Gardai in the city
were reinforced. The situation was calmed
down by the intervention of a Fr. Murray,
who counselled the aggrieved citizens not
to indulge in any acts that would put them
~ 2that time there were
outside the l a ~ . At
about 2,000 recipients of home assistance,
each with an average of four dependant^.^^
In rural areas t h e h o m e assistance
situation was much the same.
On Sunday 11 February, General
O'Duffy paid an unexpected visit to
Croom, Co. Limerick, and addressed a
large and enthusiastic meeting of Fine
Gael supporters that included a guard
of honour of five hundred Blueshirts
and Blueblouses (ladies). He told t h e
assembled gathering that the new party,
Fine Gael, had over 1,200 b r a n c h e s
around t h e country and that g r e a t
progress had been made in the Limerick
area. In regard to the economic situation,
the Limerick dairy farmers knew well the
ruinous effect of De Valera's policy and
even the road worker could not hope to
find work if there was not a change of
government soon. O'Duffy advised the
people to b e prepared for a general
election. "The future of Ireland" he stated,
"lay in the hands of the Blueshirts" and
he had no hesitation in saying, "they were
the salvation of the country". After the
meeting, a s t h e Blueshirts paraded
through t h e town, some s t o n e s were
thrown and there were shouts of "Up
Dev". When the parade ended, Capt. D. P.
Quish advised the Blueshirts to go home
in a peaceful manner. A scuffle took place
as some Blueshirts were leaving town, but
t h e Gardai intervened and peace was
Funeral of Michael Lynch leaving the church
In east Limerick, at Kilmallock, six
young boys between the ages of eleven
and thirteen and a half attempted to hold a
Flag Day collection in aid of the Fine Gael
party. They were attacked by about twenty
other boys, who knocked them down, tore
up the paper flags and made off with two
of the collection boxes. One of the flag
sellers, Patrick Campion, received slight
injuries to his head.45
In their Lenten pastorals that February,
the Catholic Bishops of Ireland referred to
the dangers of communism, nocturnal
raids, intimidation, intemperance, the evil
of impurity and the plight of the agricultural community. Dr. Keane, Bishop of
Limerick, chose the bitterness that had
entered into the political life of the country
and t h e right to vote a s h i s themes.
Although h e didn't mention t h e m by
name, Bishop Keane's pastoral condemned the attacks on the Blueshirts:
"Public gatherings" the Bishop said
"have been frequently attacked and
broken up, those attending assaulted and
beaten until the disorder became so great
as to need the intervention of the police
and military forces to preserve the right of
assembly and free speech. These outbreaks, s o far from being isolated o r
sporadic, have been widespread throughout the country and marked by methods
so seen to indicate careful organisation.
Another feature of these disorders has
been that they have been directed mainly
against one political party".46
On 20 February, two Blueshirts from
Limerick, Sean Walsh and J a m e s
Gallagher, were brought before a Military
Tribunal in Dublin and were charged with
illegal possession of arms. These men had
previously taken part in the attack on the
hut at Ardnacrusha in July 1933. This time
they were charged with stealing a
revolver. Gallagher was sentenced to
fifteen months with hard labour, Walsh to
nine months with hard labour. As it was
illegal to possess a gun at this time, the
owner of t h e weapon was given four
months with hard labour.47
At a meeting of Limerick County
Council, a proposal from t h e County
Dublin Agricultural Committee calling on
the government not to collect rates or
annuities on agricultural land was
rejected.48 Meanwhile, the government
pushed a Bill through the Dail to ban the
wearing of military style uniforms in
support of any political party. During the
debate on the Bill in the Dail, John A.
Costelloe, a Fine Gael TD, pointed out that
the Government had failed to mention the
fact that the Blackshirts were victorious in
Italy, the Brownshirts in Germany, and
that in spite of the Bill and the Public
Safety Act, "the Blueshirts will b e
victorious in t h e Irish F r e e State".49
Deputy G. Bennett (Fine Gael) from
Limerick felt that the Blueshirts had been
faced with more provocation than any
o t h e r body of men in t h e world. All
attempts to provoke them into serious
breaches of t h e law had, h e asserted,
failed. In reference to the IRA, Deputy
Bennet maintained that, if the government
wanted to control anybody, they should
control the IRA, who were openly drilling
and carrying out manoeuvres a s large
a s those held by t h e Irish Army t h e
Curragh.50 The Uniforms Bill was defeated
when it reached the Senate.
At a Fianna Fail meeting in April, De
Valera argued that t h e policy t h e
government was pursuing against Britain
would lead t h e people out of their
difficulties, b u t it would not happen
overnight. Having warned young people
against t h e glamour of wearing a
Blueshirt, h e referred to t h e IRA and
asserted that the arms they possessed
could have only one ultimate purpose - to
be used against the elected government
and its forces, which would mean civil
At Ennis, the leader of the League of
Youth in County Clare was charged with
attempted murder. During a Blueshirt-IRA
clash in the town, the accused had fired a
shot in the air that ricocheted off a wall
and hit one of the protesters. The accused
was found guilty of m a n s l a ~ g h t e r . ~ ~
'Exciting Scenes in the City - Baton
Charges - Sixteen People Treated in
Hospital'. So ran a Limerick newspaper
headline in the aftermath of a Fine Gael
dance held on Saturday, 5 May, at the
Lyric Cinema Ballroom. Early that night
large crowds, including many women and
young boys, had gathered outside the
Lyric in Glentworth Street and Baker
Place and in Catherine Street. As Gardaheld them back there were shouts of "Up
Dev" and "Up Tom Barry". Some of the
crowd sang snatches of the Soldiers SOW
and The Legion of the Rearguard and
jeered the Blueshirt girls walking down
Glentworth Street.
T h e principal guests a t t h e dance,
General Mulcahy TD, Mr. and Mrs.
Ernest Blythe, Ned Cronin and his wife,
Alderman Reidy TD, Mr. G.C. Bennet TD
and Mr. and Mrs. Morgan McMahon,
were staying at the Glentworth Hotel and
they all walked across the road to t h e
Lyric to go to the dance.53Trouble began
in earnest a s bottles and stones were
thrown at people arriving at the Lyric,
some on push-bicycles. One young girl
from the city was attacked by a man who,
it was later claimed, was drunk. She was
knocked to the ground and the assailant
tried to pull off h e r blue blouse. T h e
Gardai came to her rescue.54
The crowd in Catherine Street tried to
break through the Garda cordon but were
pushed back. As they became m o r e
aggressive, a baton charge was ordered
and a volley of stones and bottles was
thrown at the advancing Gardai. At the
junction of Cecil Street a man shouted at
the crowd from an upper window that was
promptly smashed in with stones. A
second baton charge began and, as the
crowd fled through Upper Cecil Street,
they were trapped by Gardai coming from
Dominic Street. Skirmishes occurred in
other city centre streets and in William
Street a plate-glass window was smashed
by stone-throwers. On the Friday prior to
t h e dance, t h e chairman of t h e city
executive of Fianna Fail had appealed for
calm on the night of the dance, but this
appeal had fallen on deaf ears. The dance
ended at 4.00am and by that time sixteen
people had been injured, one of the most
serious being a Garda who had been hit in
the face with a bottle. The following day
Mr. and Mrs. Blythe, Ald. Reidy and Mr.
Bennett addressed several hundred
Blueshirts at the village of Athlacca.55
A week later, on 14 May, rival meetings
of Blueshirts and IRA took place in
Listowel, Co. Kerry. Two Army armoured
cars, three lorry-loads of soldiers and
about 600 Gardai were deployed in the
town s q u a r e to keep t h e two factions
This period saw an upsurge in violent
opposition to the payment of annuities. In
Bruff, nine head of cattle were seized for
non-payment of rent and, as the cows were
put up for auction at Fedamore, a large
n u m b e r of Blueshirts attended t h e
auction.56At Kilmeedy, on Sunday 17 June,
a t least 1,200 Blueshirts attended a
meeting to protest against an assault on
the local curate that had taken place two
weeks previously outside t h e church
gates. Apparently, the parish priest had
attempted to physically remove some
Fianna Fail supporters who were holding a
c h u r c h g a t e collection. One of t h e
speakers at the meeting stated that when
there were anti-clerical outrages in other
countries such a s Russia, Mexico and
Spain, Irish newspapers condemned them.
Yet when similar outrages were perpetrated on our own doorstep, the press
of t h e country fell silent and those in
authority remained inactive.57
In the local elections of June 1934, Fine
Gael suffered a shattering defeat when
Blue shirt with Fine Gael insignia over the left breast pocket
(Kilmallock Museum)
they gained control of only seven councils
out of twenty-three.S8 A few days later a
Tipperary Blueshirt died after a scuffle
with some Fianna Fail supporters and
IRA men.59 In early August, six men
were arrested during an incident a t
Ballinamullough, Kilfinane, in east County
Limerick. This occurred at the farm of
a local County Council official and
prominent m e m b e r of t h e League of
Youth. When t h e County Registrar's
representative called at the farm to collect
payment for a land annuity, the owner
refused to pay. When t h e officials
attempted to seize sixteen head of cattle,
farm labourers and supporters of t h e
owner drove the cattle in all directions.
Reinforcements arrived, but when they
reached the iron gate fronting the farm,
they found it locked and wired. T h e y
forced open t h e g a t e with t h e aid of
hammers and pliers and eventually got the
cattle out on to the road for delivery to the
Kilfinane pound.60
On 10 August, furniture seized for nonpayment of annuities was sold at t h e
County Courthouse on Merchants Quay,
Limerick. The furniture was the property
of two lady farmers from Meanus, Bmff.61
In another sale, seven cattle were sold to a
man who acted in the interests of the
owner who said afterwards, holding up a
broken lock, that h e would have it
inscribed and would keep it as a memento
. ~comical
of the De Valera g o ~ e r n m e n tA
occurrence took place on 21 August when
a motor car belonging to a Blueshirt was
put up for auction at the Courthouse. The
car was bought back on behalf of the
owner, but when the car wouldn't start,
the Sheriffs men had to give it a push.
There were shouts and threats from the
owner's supporters about suing t h e
Sheriff's men for any damage to t h e
At Rathkeale blows were struck during
t h e sale of some cattle that had been
seized a t Patrickswell. Attention was
directed towards a man in t h e crowd
pointed out as a Fianna Fail supporter who
received a thumping before Gardai could
reach him.64That same day telegraph and
telephone wires all over Limerick county
were cut and communications to the city
were interrupted; a number of trees were
also cut down and laid across roads. The
train from Limerick to Kerry was delayed
at Patrickswell for over two hours.65On
Sunday 26 August, Blueshirt parades in
memory of Michael Collins, Arthur
Griffith and Kevin O'Higgins were held in
Kilfinane, Bruff and Knocklong. T h e
Kilfinane parade was attended by conting e n t s from Kilmallock, Ballinagaddy,
Ardpatrick, Bruree and Effin.'j6
Eoin O'Duffy, the Blueshirt leader,
called upon the government not to collect
the annuities and to set up a tribunal to
examine the farmers position generally.
He advised the farmers not to pay the
annuities unless the government agreed to
his proposals. In addition, O'Duffy was
making political statements that conflicted
with Fine Gael party policy. On Northern
Ireland he stated that, in the event of a war
between Ireland and England, 95% of the
Blueshirts would fight.67 The government
of Northern Ireland was quick to react;
they banned O'Duffy from entering any
part of the province.68 After being called to
order by the leadership of the Fine Gael,
O'Duffy resigned from the party. Ned
Cronin was made t h e new Director
General of the League of Youth. O'DufFy
disputed this and the argument, which
went on for many months, split t h e
Blueshirt movement into rival factions, the
majority following Cronin.
On Sunday 23 September, an attempt
was made to blow up a bridge in County
Clare in o r d e r to stop a Blueshirt
ceremony near Lahinch. The explosions
left two holes in the floor of the bridge.
Although heavy traffic was diverted,
Cronin, who was on h i s way to t h e
meeting, was able to drive over the bridge
later that morning. Telephone wires were
A few days later seventeen head
of cattle, belonging to a farmer in
Shanagolden, were sold a t auction a t
Rathkeale. T h e night before t h e sale,
telephone and telegraph wires were out in
the area.
Meanwhile, Cronin and O'Duffy were
at loggerheads as to who was in control of
t h e Blueshirts. O'Duify called for a
meeting of t h e Central Council of t h e
League and Cronin retaliated by saying
that any officer who attended would be
In early October, a twenty-four year old
Blueshirt was shot and wounded near
N e w c a ~ t l e w e s t At
. ~ ~Ballyneety, fifteen
Blueshirts were charged with felling trees
across the main road at Rathkeale and
attempting to obstruct a court messenger
in the course of his duty. The men were
brought by bus from Limerick Prison and
when they arrived at Ballyneety, they were
met by a large number of men and girls
wearing blue shirts and blouses. They
cheered as the men were escorted from
the bus to the police barracks. As there
was no evidence to sustain the charges,
the cases against the men were dropped.72
At a special sitting of Rathkeale court, four
Blueshirts were charged with malicious
damage to the property of the Minister of
Posts and Telegraphs and with t h e
obstruction of train services. A witness
stated that on the morning of 5 October,
the train from Limerick to Tralee was
delayed a t Patrickswell because of
interference with the rail system.73
At a Blueshirt convention in the county
held on 3 November, O'Duffy met Cronin
and T .F. O'Higgins. After a bitter and
stormy meeting that lasted six hours, no
agreement was reached between the three
men.74 Two days later, O'Duffy held a
meeting in t h e Council Chamber a t
Limerick Town Hall in Rutland Street.
About thirty Blueshirts, including girls,
attended the meeting and a small force of
detectives was on hand in case of any
disturbance. As General O'Duffy took his
seat in the Chamber, some Blueshirts,
dubbed by t h e p r e s s a s 'Fine Gael
Blueshirts', questioned his right to preside
over such a meeting. Fighting broke out
and, with women screaming, detectives
made a vain effort to bring the meeting
under control. During a second bout of
fighting, General O'Duffy's Blueshirts
forcibly threw the 'Fine Gael Blueshirts'
out of the Council Chamber. In a short
statement to the press afterwards, O'Duffy
said that the city had been divided into
four areas, each with its own officer, and
that a motion of confidence had been
passed in his leadership.75
T h e following day, 6 November,
President De Valera arrived in the city to
give support to t h e local Fianna Fail
candidates in the municipal elections. The
President was met outside the city by 150
torchbearers, two marching bands and a
Homemade Blueshirt cosh alleged to have been used in an Army Comrades
Association - Fianna Fail disturbance at Kilmallock on 9 October 1932.
Note the swastika insignia on the cover, which is made from a bicycle tyre
(Kilmallock Museum)
number of horsemen. A parade through
the streets to the Crescent was led by a
horseman wearing a green cloak. Other
horsemen carried cardboard placards on
their backs with the names of each Fianna
Fail candidate. In t h e course of h i s
address to the assembled gathering, De
Valera referred to t h e payment of t h e
annuities, the plight of the farmers and the
economic war with Britain. He asked the
people to stand by the government who
were doing their best to lead the people
towards prosperity and freedom.76
In mid-November, t h e Minister for
Posts and Telegraphs brought 110 cases
for malicious damage to telegraph poles
and wires against Limerick County
Council.77 Towards the end of the month,
twenty Blueshirts from t h e a r e a s of
Knocklong, Elton, Galbally, and Grange
were arrested in connection with t h e
cutting of telegraph poles.78 By 6
December t h e number of Blueshirts
arrested had risen to sixty. Most of the
men were kept at William Street Garda
Station in Limerick City before being
brought before a Military Tribunal in
Dublin.79Two Blueshirts from Newcastlewest were sentenced to twelve months
each, but this was reduced to six months
following assurances that they would keep
the peace. Their solicitor said that the men
had seen the error of their ways and that
"they really had been victims of misguided
influence". A police officer informed the
court that he felt that the campaign of pole
cutting etc. was very near its end.80
A newsreel film showing the marriage
of the Duke and Duchess of Kent drew
protests when it was shown in t h r e e
Limerick cinemas. At the Coliseum, a
group of youths shouted for it to b e
withdrawn and began singing republican
songs. In the Grand Central some of the
audience made noise a s t h e film was
shown, and at the Lyric others stamped
their feet in protest. As a precautionary
measure, detectives from William Street
Barracks took the newsreel away each
night and brought it back for each
showing.81In another incident at the end
of the month, some men called during the
night to the house of a soldier at Creagh
Lane, off Broad Street. After getting him
out of the house on the pretext that some
friends wanted to m e e t him, they
kidnapped him. Later that night h e was
taken to Cathedral Place and tied to the
railing of t h e Sarsfield monument. A
placard fastened to his tunic bore the
words, 'This man is a deserter from the
IRA'. Four men, one of whom lived near
the soldier, were arrested.a2 When they
appeared before a Military Tribunal in
Dublin they were charged with being
members of an unlawful organisation,
conspiracy, and t h e imprisoning of a
soldier of the national army. T h e men
stated that they were members of the IRA
and refused to recognize the authority of
t h e court. They received s e n t e n c e s
ranging from three to fifteen months.83
After the split in the Blueshirts, many
members left the movement rather than
choose sides. Meanwhile, O'Duffy became
infatuated with European fascism. In
December 1934, h e attended a Nazisponsored conference held in Switzerland
and Belgium, where he was appointed to
the Secretariat of the Fascist International.
In January 1935, he met Benito Mussolini
in Rome while attending a meeting to
establish a Centre of Corporative Studies.
As leader of the Blueshirts, O'Duffy had
promoted the Fascist idea of Corporatism the belief that workers and employers
should form joint bodies to regulate
industry and economic activities in order
to eliminate class conflict.84Blueshirt
intellectuals claimed to have got their
ideas on Corporatism from Pope Pius XI'S
encyclical, 'Quadragesimo Anno', and not
from Mussolini's Italy.
In early January 1935, t h e r e was a
negotiated breakthrough in the Economic
War, with t h e British government
announcing that cattle imports from
Ireland would be increased by 33l/2%. In
return, the Irish government would allow
British coal to an equivalent value into the
country.85 In a s t a t e m e n t De Valera
said, "opportunities for further similar
understandings will, no doubt, present
themselves from time to time and will
probably be availed of by both sides in the
same spirit".86
In Limerick, the Corporation was taken
up with a slum clearance programme. The
City Manager also gave instructions to the
Home Assistance officers to investigate
the rents paid to landlords in the city's
slum areas. It was stated that in many
cases the rents charged were excessive
and made a great drain on the recipients
of Home Assistance. The Manager wanted
first-hand information on the subject in
order to ensure that assistance was paid
on as equitable a scale as possible to the
dwellers in the slums.87Some of the slum
areas in the city at that time were in the
Lady's Lane, Parnell Street, the Dominic
Street area and in Palmerstown.88 T h e
families from these areas were to be rehoused in the new Corporation housing
scheme on the Island Field, a disused
British military training ground. During
this period the City Manager and some of
the Councillors discussed the pros and
cons of whether to build 'economic units'
(single terraced houses) or 'un-economic
units' (flats) each with its own separate
entrance. T h e point was made t h a t
provision would have to b e made to
temporarily house people cleared from
slum districts pending the building of a
In rural areas, farmers hoping that the
annuities would b e abolished were
disappointed when court messengers
arrived to collect the disputed payments.
On Wednesday 6 February, a court
messenger from Limerick, accompanied
by several Gardai, called to the farm of a
prominent Blueshirt in the Bruff area to
collect annuities that were due on the
land. The official told the farmer that his
instructions were to seize furniture if the
bill was not paid. The farmer informed the
official that h e could not pay t h e full
amount owing to the fact that he was not
able to sell any of his cattle at the recent
fair in Bruff, but he was willing to pay half
of the amount owed. As the messenger
insisted on seizing t h e furniture, t h e
Blueshirt told him that he could seize the
cattle instead. With that the messenger
and the Gardai left the premises. Later
that night, at two o'clock in the morning, a
lorry with detectives arrived at the farm
house and as bailiffs proceeded to remove
furniture from the dining room, sitting
room and the four bedrooms, a neighbour
arrived on the scene and told the men that
h e would pay t h e bill. After that t h e
furniture was returned to the house.90 At a
Fine Gael convention held in Limerick a
few days later, t h e night raid on t h e
farmhouse at Bruff was ~ o n d e m n e dThat
s a m e month Ald. Reidy, Mr. Morgan
McMahon and others were taken to court
in respect of rent owed and damage to a
former ground floor city office at No.5 the
Crescent, which had been leased to
Cumman na nGaedheal.g2
At Kilmallock on St. Patrick's Day,
close to 500 Blueshirts gathered in the
town to parade and to hear Comdt. Cronin
and General Sean McEoin T D speak.
Between one and two o'clock that day,
crowds of young men and women wearing
blue shirts began arriving in the town by
bus, motor car, lorry and bicycle. Earlier
that morning, the majority of Fianna Fail
s u p p o r t e r s in t h e area had g o n e to
Limerick to see the annual parade. Others
had travelled to Mitchelstown for t h e
al's cap worn by General O'Duffy as commander of the Irish
Battalion fighting for Franco during the Spanish Civil War
(Courtesy of Kieran Kennedy; photo by Des Ryan)
unveiling of an IRA memorial. As t h e
Blueshirt parade began its journey from
Lord Edward Street and made its way into
Sarsfield Street towards John's Castle,
fighting erupted between the Blueshirts,
the Gardai and groups of young men who
had gathered in the streets. Cronin was hit
on the head with a Garda baton and was
taken to t h e Central Hotel where his
wound was cleaned up.g3
During the speeches that followed,
some of the Blueshirts standing at the
edge of the gathering smashed in the door
of the local blacksmith's forge and caused
some damage to t h e bellows. Comdt.
Cronin called for order, but his appeal
went unheeded; his followers broke loose
and attempted to smash up certain houses
in t h e town. Finally, in desperation,
General McEoin told t h e disorderly
Blueshirts that he would leave the town
without speaking if the men did not return
to the meeting. When the meeting ended
further disturbances took place. Sixty
Blueshirts decided to take on the Gardai,
who had formed a cordon at the junction
of Sarsfield Street and Lord Edward
Street. A baton charge was ordered and
the Blueshirts were driven back. By that
time, a busload of Gardai had arrived from
Limerick. Many Blueshirts were injured
that day.94 Later that night there were
further incidents of vandalism, when doors
and windows were damaged by stonethrowers. One resident of the town had
the windscreen of his car smashed. It was
noticeable that many adherents of the Fine
Gael party in the professional, business
and farming classes were absent that
In early April, similar unrest broke out
when 100 Blueshirts paraded through
Kilfinane and telegraph wires in the area
In Dublin, O'Duffy and a
number of h i s supporters formed an
additional association known as the 32
Club. Its aims were the reunification of
Ireland through social, cultural and
business contacts. Membership was open
to all, irrespective of their religious
beliefs.97 This was an attempt to forge
stronger links with Fascists in Northern
Ireland, but it fell through. O'Duffy then
turned his attention towards the IRA and
in an attempt to gain their support, h e
instructed his followers not to inform on
republicans. This gesture proved to be a
failure as well.98The following month, a
Blueshirt who, it was alleged, s e n t a
threatening letter to the pound keeper at
Kilfinane had his case dropped through
lack of evidence.g9 On 30 May, t h e
Minister of Local Government arrived in
Limerick to officially open t h e new
tuberculosis and ophthalmic hospitals at
t h e City Home and from t h e r e to t h e
Island Field to perform the ceremony of
inaugurating t h e completion of t h e
housing project.lO0
In early June, O'Duffy announced a
change of name for his section of t h e
League of Youth - they were now to be
known as the National Corporate Party. At
one of the first meetings he outlined the
objectives of the new party: the abolition of
party politics, the setting up of a united
Irish corporate state and the protection of
liberties against communism, capitalism
and dictatorships. Attempts to set up new
branches of the Corporate Party were met
with hostility by pro-Cronin
At the end of the month, President De
Valera addressed a large gathering of his
followers in Limerick. T h e r e were a
number of hecklers at the meeting, but
when De Valera got up to speak he was
given a rousing reception. Before h e
returned to Dublin h e visited his uncle
and some old friends in Bruree.lO2
At the onset of the parading season in
Northern Ireland, violence broke out
between Catholics and Protestants and by
July, nine people had been killed and one
hundred injured.103 As a result of this
sectarianism, serious rioting broke in
Limerick. On Saturday night, 19 July, a
n u m b e r of Protestant h o u s e s and
businesses in the city were attacked. A
mob estimated at between two and three
hundred youths went on a rampage,
smashing glass windows, bringing the
Gardai and later on, the army, carrying
rifles with fixed bayonets, onto the streets.
In the Protestant Young Men's Association
building on O'Connell Street, many of the
windows were smashed. The windows in
the Gospel Hall in Upper Mallow Street
were completely wrecked and those in the
Trinity Church on Catherine Street were
put in. Stones were thrown at the Masonic
Club in the Crescent. An attempt was
made to s e t fire to t h e Presbyterian
Church in Lower Mallow Street, while in
Pery Square St. Michael's Church of
Ireland was about to be stoned when the
Gardai came on t h e scene and batoncharged the crowd. Plate glass windows in
the following shops were also damaged:
Goodwin & CO.,William Street; J. Goods,
Upper William Street; Lindsay Bros.,
Patrick Street; Stewarts, O'Connell Street;
Widdess, Roches Street; Wickhams,
Henry Street and Stockils in Catherine
Street. In the dockland area that day,
workers refused to unload a ship from
Northern Ireland. In Kilmallock, t h e
protestant Church was completely
destroyed by fire.
~t Masses in Catholic churches the
following morning, the rioting and damage
of property t h e previous night were
T h e Mayor and t h e City
Manager called to t h e houses of t h e
various Protestant clergy and on behalf of
the citizens sympathized with them on
what had happened. T h a t night one
hundred extra Gardai were drafted into
the city to protect Protestant churches and
places of business. In case of more trouble
t h e army was on standby at Sarsfield
Barracks. Five men were arrested in
connection with the rioting.lo4
The Royal George Hotel on O'Connell
Street was t h e setting for a private
meeting of the Fine Gael executive for the
city and county on Saturday 15 September,
when Comdt. Cronin addressed t h e
gathering. He told the assembled memb e r s that t h e government was, in his
opinion, hanging on to their position by a
single hair. The Blueshirt movement, he
said, had been a spontaneous development
that came as a counter-move to communism in its various forms. Stating that
national unity should be the first objective,
h e went on to say that industrial
development and agricultural development should go hand in hand to solve the
unemployment problem. Cronin felt that
Fianna Fail was putting industrial
development before t h e interests of
The annual convention of the West
Limerick division of the League of Youth
(Cronin supporters) was held on 8
October at Rathkeale, Commandant M.
Conway presiding. Sixty-five members, he
declared, were arrested and some of them
were in Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin.
Another speaker, Colonel Austin Brennan,
one of the founding members of the Army
Comrades Association, told his audience
that the future of Ireland was in the hands
of the Blueshirts and he had no hesitation
in saying that they were the salvation of
the country. It was agreed at the meeting
that a ladies prisoners committee b e
appointed to organize a reception for the
men due to be released from prison.106
When two Blueshirts arrived home to
Rathkeak on l1 December after having
served their twelve-month sentences, they
were met by members of the League of
Youth and Fine Gael supporters. After a
parade, the Blueshirts were addressed by
a number of people including Cronin,
Brennan and one of t h e released
PriSoners, David Madden.107
h March 1936, O'Duffy's National
Corporate Party shed their blue shirts in
favour of green shirts, green ties and
'1916' Volunteer hats. O'Duffy said that,
"blue is not our national colour no more
than yellow or red. All over the world
green is, and ever shall be, recognized as
the national colour of the Emerald Isle".
This change of colour was brought about
due to his awareness that the NCP had
failed in its attempt to gain control of the
Blueshirt movement.lo8 At the Fine Gael
Ard-Fheis, where Mr. Cosgrave was reelected as President of the party, only a
small number of Blueshirts were to be
seen, indicating that Fine Gael's flirtation
with uniformed militants was very much
on the wane.logThe third annual Blueshirt
congress, held in Cork on 26 May, caused
very little excitement. Gone were the days
of the impressive parades and flamboyant
rhetoric. It was altogether a very low-key
affair and was virtually ignored by the
Towards the end of June, thirty-six
Republicans from Limerick were arrested.
The men, who had stolen a lorry belonging to Limerick Co. Council, were on their
way to a banned IRA demonstration at
Bodenstown, Co. Kildare."' A few days
later, a t a Blueshirt rally of Cronin's
supporters, J a m e s Dillon T D in h i s
address said that in Limerick, Cork and
Kilkenny, armed blackguards were
encountered and defeated by the bare
fists of the Blueshirts and but for that
organization, the forces of tyranny would
have succeeded. We have shown, h e
stated, that democracy could triumph in
the end."2
The major event of that year in Europe
was the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
During the Spanish municipal elections of
1931, the radical republican left won a
majority, forcing the King Alfonso XI11 to
resign and go into exile. In August 1932,
an attempted military coup was quashed
by troops loyal to the government. In the
elections of 1933, the parties of the right,
conservative republicans, clericals and
monarchists gained power, but in another
election, before the civil war broke out,
the parties of the left were returned to
power again. A prominent feature of
radical republicanism in Spain was its anticlericalism. On 17 July, Generals Jose
Sanjurjo, Emilo Mosa and Francisco
Franco led a military rebellion against the
government. In the opening months of the
war many priests and nuns were
murdered in a r e a s that were under
republican control. This was the deciding
factor a s to why s o many Irishmen
volunteered to g o to Spain with Eoin
O'Duffy to fight on the side of the Franco
O'Duffy had been approached by
several influential people who put the idea
to him of raising an Irish volunteer force
to fight for Catholic Spain. A letter from
O'Duffy to the Irish Independent on 10
August, proposing the formation of an
Irish Brigade, met with enthusiastic
support.Il3 At one stage it was claimed that
2,000 applications had been received.fl4
During the summer and autumn months,
O'Duffy and his staff spent their time
organizing medical check-ups, character
references and transportation f o r t h e
brigade. In the meantime, the activities of
the National Corporate Party were put on
hold s o a s to promote a non-political
character for the crusade. All this was
done in a s much secrecy a s possible,
because to raise such an armed force
within t h e state would have b e e n a
criminal offence.n5 T h e government
reacted quickly to all this when they
adopted the Franco-British initiative bf
non-intervention in the affairs of Spain.
They also made it illegal for Irish people to
go to Spain. Indeed, a passport belonging
to a Blueshirt from Limerick, showing
what countries h e could travel to, had
Spain blotted out. Of course, the loophole
in this was that Irishmen, depending on
which side they wanted to fight on, could
travel by way of Portugal or France and
then cross the border into Spain, and this
is exactly what they did.
The Blueshirt leader, Ned Cronin, in a
statement issued from Fine Gael HQ in
early September, declared that O'Duffy's
proposition was "moonshine" and that an
Irish Brigade had a s much chance of
reaching Saragossa as it had of reaching
the moon.n6 By that time the Fine Gael
leaders, particularly Cosgrave and
O'Higgins, felt that the Blueshirts had
achieved their purpose, that is, asserting
the right to free speech, and now that the
government had banned the IRA, it was
felt that t h e r e was no need for two
organizations within the party. It was also
felt that some of Cronin's views were not
in line with party policy, a charge that had
been previously levelled at O'Duffy. On
Saturday 10 October, Cronin was notified
by the Fine Gael Standing Committee that
the League of Youth offices at 3 Merrion
Square in Dublin would not be available to
him in future and that the party would not
be responsible for any expenses incurred
by him or in connection with the League
of Youth.l17 When Cronin tried to get into
t h e building, h e found t h a t t h e door
handle had been removed and the keyhole
blocked with paper that had been stuffed
A month later, Cronin apparently
changed his mind about O'Duffy'sbrigade
when he travelled with a contingent of 84
men to Lisbon in Portugal. T h o m a s
Gunning, O'DufYy's secretary, who was in
Spain at the time, went to Lisbon and had
Cronin arrested by the Portuguese Secret
Police. Gunning told Cronin that O'DufEy
resented his coming and had issued
instructions that Cronin wasn't to b e
helped or facilitated in any way; h e also
succeeded in having Cronin stopped from
On Saturday night, 12 December, small
groups of men, volunteers for O'Duffy's
Brigade, gathered in Sexton Street,
Limerick, to be taken by bus to Galway,
their point of departure for Spain. T h e
men, a mixture of Blueshirts, IRA, young
men who couldn't get jobs, young men
who had jobs and gave them UP and
former ex-soldiers, were addressed by Mr.
J. Ryan, one of the brigade organisers in
Limerick. In the course of his address, he
told the men that they were going out as
apostles to a foreign land to fight against
the greatest heresy that ever swept over
Europe - C o m m u n i ~ m . ~ ~ ~
T h e very next day, in Limerick, a
meeting of the National Council of the
League of Youth was held in Geary's Hotel
in Thomas Street. The meeting, consisting
of six people, was held in private. In the
absence of Cronin, Comdt. P. Quinlan of
Fermoy was elected as acting Director
General. A statement issued after the
meeting stated that owing to the action of
Fine Gael in endeavouring to break up
t h e Blueshirt movement by making
unfounded charges against Comdt.
Cronin, the League of Youth had decided
to break away in order to preserve the
organization.121 But by that time, t h e
Blueshirts were finished a s a pressure
group and as a political force.
During the early 1930s, the Irish economy
suffered a double blow when it was hit by
the Depression and then, in 1932, by the
Irish government's Economic War with
Britain. This began, as we have already
seen, when Eamon De Valera refused to
pay Irish land annuities to the British
Exchequer. T h i s caused a serious
depression in Irish agriculture and nearly
led to a major disruption of the beef export
industry. Irish farmers were hoping that
the annuities would be abolished, but they
were soon disappointed when court
messengers came around to collect the
disputed annuities. As farm incomes
began to drop and unemployment and
emigration increased, many disillusioned
farmers joined the Blueshirts and took
part in attempts to stop cattle seizures and
caused destruction to telegraph poles and
The first break in the Economic War
came in January 1935, with the Coal and
Cattle Pact; then in 1938, an Irish delegation met with their British counterparts
in London. The Irish, led by De Valera,
made it clear from the start what they
wanted to discuss, in order of preference,
partition, defence and outstanding debts.
The British Government was not prepared
to discuss partition, as they felt that the
problem of a divided Ireland would have
to be settled by the mutual consent of
the people, north and south.lZ2During
fourteen weeks of negotiations an
agreement was reached under the terms
of which three Irish ports, Cobh,
Berehaven and Lough Swilly, which were
still garrisoned by British troops, came
under Irish control. In regard to outstanding debts, Ireland agreed to pay E10
million as a settlement between the two
countries. This was a big drop from the
E104 million that t h e British had
demanded.123The special tariffs and duties
imposed by both sides against each other
since 1932 were lifted.124 While t h e
agreement was in a way successful, the
outbreak of the Second World War
hampered the development of the Irish
economy, a s rationing had to be
introduced during the 1939-45 Emergency
and for several years afterwards.125
1. Regan, John M,: The Irish CounterR e v o l u t i o n , Gill & Macmillian,
Dublin, 1999, pp.266-7
2. Limerick Leader, 25 January 1932
3. Limerick Chronicle, February 1932
4. ibid, January 1932
5. Limerick Leader, 10 February 1932
6. Limerick Chronicle, 11 September
7. Manning, Maurice: T h e Blueshirts,
Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, 19987, p.23
8. ibid, p.32-3
9. ibid, p.32
10. ibid, p.32
11. Limerick Chronicle, 16 August 1932
12. ibid.
13. ibid, 1 3 September 1932
14. ibid, 1 1 October 1932
15. ibid.
16. ibid.
17. ibid.
18. ibid., 20 October 1932
19. ibid., 15 November 1932
20. ibid., 20 November 1932
21. ibid., 21 January 1933
22. ibid., 24 January 1933
23. Mulqueen, J. & Wren, J.: De Valera,
Tomar Publishing Ltd., Dublin, 1989
24. ibid.
25. Limerick Chronicle, 22 March 1933
26. ibid., 8 July 1933
27. Manning, op. cit. pp.73-4
28. Limerick Chronicle, 5 August 1932
29. Manning, op. cit., p.86
30. Limerick Chronicle, 26 August 1933
31. ibid., 31 August 1933
32. ibid., 26 September 1933
33. Bell, J . Boyer: T h e Secret A r m y ,
Poolbeg Press, Dublin, 1998. p.109
34. Limerick Chronicle, 14 December
35. ibid., 28 November 1933
36. Bell, op. cit. p.110
37. Cronin, M.: The Blueshirts and Irish
Politics Four Courts Press, Dublin,
1997, p.24
38. Limerick Chronicle, 27 February 1934
39. Cronin, op. cit. p24
40. Limerick Chronicle, 9 January 1934
41. ibid., 11January l934
42. ibid., 16 January 1934
43. ibid., 20 January 1934
44. ibid., 13 February 1934
45. ibid.
46. ibid.
47. ibid., 20 February 1934
48. ibid.
49. Manning, op. cit. p.125
50. Limerick Chronicle, 22 February 1934
51. ibid., 10 April 1934
52. Manning, op. cit.
53. Limem'ck Chronicle, 8 May 1934 ;)
54. ibid., 9 June 1934
55. ibid., 8 May 1934
56. ibid., l 6 June 1934
57. ibid., 19 June 1934
58. Cronin, op. cit. p.24
59. Manning, op. cit. p.125
60. Limerick Chronicle, 2 August 1934
61. ibid., l1August 1934
ibid., 21 August 1934
ibid., 8 August 1934
Manning, op. cit.
Limerick Chronicle, 28 August 1934
ibid., 25 September 1934
ibid., 27 September 1934
ibid., 2 October 1934
ibid., 4 October 1934
ibid., 16 October 1934
Manning, op. cit. p.170
Limerick Chronicle, 6 November 1934
ibid., 8 November 1934
ibid., 15 November 1934
ibid., 29 November 1934
ibid., 6 December 1934
ibid.,l3 December 1934
ibid.,8 December 1934
ibid., 29 December 1934
ibid., 24 January 1935
McGarry, F.: General O'Duffv, the
National C o r ~ o r a t ePartv and the
Irish Brigade, in Joost, Augusteyn:
Ireland i n the 1930's, Four Courts
Press, Dublin, 1999, p.119
85. Limerick Chronicle, 5 January 1935
86. ibid.
87. ibid., 10 January 1935
88. ibid.
89. ibid., 24 January 1935
90. ibid., 7 February 1935
91. ibid., 2 March 1935
92. ibid., 21 February 1935
93. ibid., 18 May 1935
94. Limerick Leader, 20 March 1935
95. ibid.
96. ibid., 8 April 1935
97. ibid., 29 April 1935
98. Joost, op. cit.
99. Limerick Leader 25 May 1935
100. ibid., 30 May 1935
101. Joost, op. cit.
102. Limerick Leader 2 July 1935
103 McEoin, V.: The IRA i n the Twilight
Years Argenta Publications, Dublin,
1997, p.344
104. Limerick Chronicle, 23 July 1935
105. Limem'ck Leader 18 September 1935
106. ibid., October 1935
107. ibid., 14 December 1935
108. Joost, op. cit.
109. Manning, op. cit. p.190
110. ibid.
111. Limerick Chronicle, 24 June 1935
112. ibid. 30 June 1935
113. Joost, op. cit., p125
114. Limerick Chronicle, 25 August 1936
115. ibid.
116. Limerick Chronicle, 24 December
117. Limem'ck Leader 12 October 1936
118. Manning, op. cit., p.195
119. Limerick Chronicle,l4 January 1937
120. ibid., 19 December 1936
121. Limem'ck Leader, 14 December 1936.
122. Kehoe, A.M.: Makers of 20th Century
Ireland, Mentor Publications, Dublin,
1989, p.115
123. ibid.
124. OJBrien, E.: Modern Zreland18681966 Mentor Publications, Dublin,
1995. p.138
125. ibid.

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